Christ presented himself to my gaze in a fresh form this morning. I was in the sacristy, preparing to serve at morning Mass, when, to my surprise, Father Ixon Chateau, our new assistant pastor, walked in. I had never met him before—in fact, this was to be his first Mass in our church after arriving yesterday—and I expressed my vivid first impression in three words, “You’re so young!” The priest, a native of Haiti, quickly offered that our pastor, Father Barnes, is young too. Yeah, but not so much, I thought but didn’t say. After all, we just celebrated the 5th anniversary of Father Barnes’s 35th birthday. He’s halfway to 80.
Joy as much as jumped off of Father Chateau as he introduced himself to the lector, Bill, and myself. “Mr. Webster,” he said to me, verifying my name. “Webster,” I answered, “just Webster.” I was sure that his use of “Mister” was as much a gesture of respect, as it was a misunderstanding about which name was which. He offered a couple of biographical details: His parents live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while his grandparents still reside in Haiti—in the countryside, not earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince, he assured us.
I felt immediately the honor one senses when showing an important guest around one’s home. Would Father prefer to use his own chalice, a beautiful broad silverwork cup that I had discovered in the cupboard? It didn’t matter, he smiled humbly. Later, when I goofed at the altar, bringing regular water instead of Holy Water for him to clean the chalice with, Father Chateau only smiled at my apology after Mass, saying it didn’t matter.
As 7 o’clock approached, the priest asked me to help him with the ear-piece of his microphone and inquired if there were a Mass intention for the day. (There was.) Dead or living? (Dead.) Then he offered a short prayer in which he asked a blessing on me and Bill. Finally, we waited in silence for the 7 o’clock bells before processing out into the sanctuary.
Since I was received into the Church three years ago, I have had one pastor and a superb one. The assistant pastor serving our parish while I was in RCIA was reassigned shortly after Easter 2008, and Father Barnes is the only regular priest I have known since then. So a question has presented itself upon the arrival of Father Chateau: Does my faith—the presence of Christ as a fact in my life—depend on the human identity of the priest I follow? I discovered today at Mass that, in the case of our new assistant pastor, the identity not only doesn’t matter but enriches my experience of faith.
After Mass, several parishioners entered the sacristy to welcome our new priest. I trust that, as the rest of us get to know Father Ixon Chateau, we will all be moved to do likewise.